For Mother's Day, some of TheNextWomen members shared their view with us on what it means to be a working mother. We talked about the challenges and the opportunities of being a working mother, stereotypes to debunk, and advice for future generations.
We asked our members about their experience of motherhood while leading the life of an entrepreneur. Let us introduce you to our guests:
Julie Munneke, Founder of Tiny Library
Thalita van Ogtrop, Founder and CEO at The Next Closet
Nathalie van der Ploeg, Lead Project Manager at United for Better Business
Lucy von Sturmer, Founder of The Humblebrag and Initiator at Creatives for Climate
1) Did you start your company before or after you became a mother?
Both Julie and Nathalie started their companies after they became mothers for the second time. Julie was actually inspired to found her company during her maternity leave, when she started making a “quick and dirty
business plan”. In the nine following months, she refined her plan, quit her job, saved some money and got started! Only a few months after, she
was already pregnant with her third child, and a new deadline appeared: her next maternity leave.
As per Nathalie, she also quit her job after her second pregnancy, but to become a freelance journalist and mark the start of her entrepreneurial journey, however not with a specific project in mind. “Great timing” she told us, “I had a toddler, a baby, a partner who was away quite a lot of time, my back was a mess because of my pregnancy, and I got really ill with some virus. Looking back, I think I just wanted to have more flexibility, I never started with a big idea.”
Thalita and Lucy founded their companies before becoming mothers. Lucy shared with us that she actually started her company before she felt ready to be an entrepreneur, a boss, a business owner, but because she knew she wanted to be financially independent at a certain point in her career, before becoming a mother. She is now in her fourth year of running The Humblebrag and she is four weeks into being a mother.
2) Did becoming a mom change the way you do business? If yes, how?
Becoming a mother definitely changed the way our members do business by putting them in front of new obstacles but also new opportunities. Motherhood allowed them to acquire and develop new skills and competencies, from time-management, to prioritizing, to learning how to sharpen your focus in order to take on projects and responsibilities that truly mean something to you and are worth investing your energies in. Julie used to work an 08.00-19.00 schedule, which often extended into evenings. Once she became a mother, she felt the need to be home early and spend her time
wisely, as she wanted to make sure she was giving the best contribution she could give as both a mother and entrepreneur. Working without a specific goal and motive would have meant wasting a possibility to drive a positive impact that she otherwise could have had by being with her kids. Spending an entire day in meetings without accomplishing anything specific would frustrate her, therefore she is now so happy she started her own company and she is in charge of her own agenda.
Similarly, as a new mom Lucy has experienced what she defines as a huge shift in thinking. She is now more consciously pondering about the ways in which her energy is spent and whether the way she channels it serves her goals, and not just financially speaking. The question Lucy asks herself now is “Are they really conversations or engagements or collaborations that excite me?”. “When running a business, she told us, “you have to assess why you take on certain projects. You can chase leads that actually end up holding you back, even if they sound exciting at the time.”
Being a mother and an entrepreneur surely puts you through some challenges. Nathalie shared with us: “My neighbor sometimes complained that I had forgotten to turn off the light at 1AM (or later). But I hadn’t forgotten, I was still working – I really thought that I could still do the same amount of work as before. To be honest, at times I was getting quite depressed. My business partner at that time advised me to hire a nanny, but that didn’t feel right. Instead, I started to hire people who could work with me and that was a turning point.” Becoming a mother and experiencing the difficulties it can often cause enabled Nathalie to shift her focus on prioritizing and building a business rather than doing everything herself.
In a similar way, Thalita increased her efficiency by learning how to better delegate tasks among other things, which also allowed her to become more confident as a leader.
3) What’s the greatest thing, besides of course your kid(s), of being a working mom?
The answer was clear and unanimous: the greatest thing about being a working mother is the balance and flexibility it grants you, although it might not be easy to achieve at the beginning. Having the possibility to follow and deepen your interests and passions – all our members remarked – allows you to be a better mother too. “I would be a terrible full time mom” Julie shared with us, “I have not enough
patience and it would bore me out to be with the kids all the time”. Thalita also observed that keeping her passions broad and being able to keep learning and meeting new interesting people through her work provides her with a lot of positive energy that she can channel into being a better and happier mom.
Nathalie, in addition, stressed the importance of having the ability to choose her own path and be flexible with her own time. “It’s not always an easy path, but it brings autonomy and that is a big treasure. And of course, it also helps to bring work more into perspective”
4) What’s been the biggest challenge?
Since the greatest gift of being a working mother is the balance and flexibility it allows you to have, the biggest challenge is to find that very balance between work and family. Time is limited, so prioritizing is key, as having some space and time for yourself too, as suggested by Julie. “If you work a lot and you want to be with your kids as well, there is no time for other things.”
Thalita re-emphasizes the importance of balance: “I’ve tried to do both things for the full 100%. Running The Next Closet on the one hand and trying to always be there for my kids. I’ve learned that i’ts very challenging to be there for both as I can’t split myself in two. Therefore I decided the best I can do is be there for 100% at both when I choose to be. When I am at home with the kids I try not to read emails and when I’m working I have no appointments related to the kids.”
Learning how to balance different dimensions of your life is no easy feat. “I am not a person who idealizes entrepreneurship” Nathalie told us. “The autonomy I found when I started, immediately started to change after I hired staff and had long contracts with clients. There have been lots of times that I wished I just had a job where I could call in sick when sick or take a day off when I wanted to. Or change jobs! When your business is doing well, it’s all great. I think the real challenge of entrepreneurship – always – is when your biggest client dumps you, your partner is on a trip to wherever and your kid gets a high fever. Then it can be quite challenging. You need to be able to cope with that. Someone explained this to me very simply: you need continuity. If this continuity (in work, money, health etc.) stops, stress gets to you and that’s never a good sign. It’s one of the reasons why I sold my company.”
5) What are the stereotypes of working mothers that still need to be debunked in your opinion?
All members agreed on the fact that the greatest stereotype to debunk is the one that judges working women as either bad mothers or unprofessional entrepreneurs.
Julie: “The combination should absolutely be possible, and there are more and more
examples of them, role-models who have interesting jobs or companies
and also a vibrant family and social life.”
Thalita: “I normally work 90% but also many times, 100%. This means I can’t always pick my kids up from school or host a playdate at home. This doesn’t mean that I am not involved in their upbringing or care less about my children”
Nathalie: “Well, my generation (I am 52) was raised by mothers who were in general not working or only for a couple of hours. When I was a kid, I never met a woman who was economically independent. Divorcing was a big problem. In my opinion this is one of the reasons why this guilt infliction of working was (or is) so high. That, plus the Dutch culture and school hours are still quite stressful for working moms, especially when you have little children. You need to organize a lot to be able to have a normal work life. I really hope me and my female friends gave our daughters a different view, but there still is a lot of work to do on the system.”
Lucy: ”So I worked right up until my due date and there were some hesitations from clients about working on projects within that period. I think for me, the biggest frustration was, as the great Jacinda Ardern has said, I think it was a headline in The Guardian, ‘I’m pregnant, not incapacitated’. So for me, baby brain didn’t really occur. So yeah, I’d say that I made an effort to get out there, board meetings, you know, being visible as a pregnant woman working because I thought it was valuable also for others to see that, you know, growing a human actually is an incredible feat. And it doesn’t mean that you’re mono-focused.”
Thalita added that another stereotype argument that still needs to be debunked is the one according to which stay-at-home-moms lack ambition. “I believe there are many different mothers and flavors and you should choose what makes YOU the happiest person. In the end that will result in being the best mother for your kids.”
6) What’s been the impact of covid on your household?
Covid had both negative and positive effects on our members’ households but that is because they had no other choice but to find ways to turn the negative into the positive, which is a skill covid definitely forced all of us to learn. Although staying at home makes your world very small, it can have various benefits on a household. “You have a lot of quality time together. Many walks in the park, cooking at home and playing games together” Thalita told us. “I must admit that being pregnant of Kai (born April 2021) helped me a lot with being at peace with this pace. This does not mean that I can’t wait for all the restaurants and museums to open and enjoy a festival again with a big group of friends.”
Covid created distance between us and our loved ones and compromised businesses, however it also offered possibilities to go inwards and cultivate new interests or rediscover past ones. Nathalie shared with us that although a big project of hers failed because of Covid-19, it gave her time to focus on doing what she really likes: inspiring other people with stories and ideas. She started to write again, work on a podcast series and she is now a mentor/coach.
Covid also changed our goals, the way we ascribe value to certain things and the criteria we base ourselves on to make decisions. Lucy, for example, had been living in the Netherlands for 10 years and with her partner, they decided to move back to New Zealand, where she is originally from, which inspired them to live in nature. “We’re living by the beach and I want to turn my business more into a digital business rather than a face-to-face consultancy”
7) What’s the advice you like to give your kids and the next generations?
Julie: “Create your perfect life, not the life you think others want for you.”
Thalita: “Take care of yourself and mother earth. We only have one planet and one body. Let’s nurture, take care, and cherish it!”
Nathalie: “I can only suggest that they try to find out what gives them energy, what makes their eyes sparkle. It’s easier and more fulfilling to focus on what you like to do instead of doing what you are really good at. My advice would be to dream a lot about your goals in life, be agile in how to get there and, uh… don’t be naïve. Oh, and never ever lose your humor.”
Lucy: “One of the driving motivations for what I do at the Humble Brag but also Creatives for Climate is to inspire business leaders to use their power, platform and influence to drive positive impact and to be a force for good. So I’m hoping that in my lifetime I’m able to have a positive impact and work with others and collaborate with others that are trying to do the same thing. The next generation in the reality that they’ll be facing does concern me. It does motivate me as well. So I find it really hard to answer the advice that I would give to the next generation. I think more and more we’re seeing that the next generation has advice for us. New ways of thinking, new ways of being. So I look forward to hearing what advice the next generation, including my own child, has for me and how I navigate the rest of my life.”
Thank you Julie, Thalita, Nathalie and Lucy for sharing your experience of being a working mother with us! Now more than ever it is of the utmost importance to shed light on the reality of being both a mother and an entrepreneur, to expose the vulnerability it comes with in today’s world and embrace all of its facets, without prejudice.